My stories as I remember them during my journey in the Martial Arts

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Life facing cancer

It was October 2007 we had been planning a camping trip to Old Forge with the family and the news came. We had both been worried about this for a while ever since the mammogram showed something “suspicious”. I guess we both thought it couldn’t be - it just couldn’t. I think it was Wednesday Oct. 9th. Not sure since it was all a blur. Donna didn’t want to tell anyone until we actually saw the surgeon again. Yes we had heard it. It was cancer. My beautiful wife had breast cancer.

We went ahead with the camping trip anyway. We told the kids that Donna just had a cyst removed. We didn’t say anything about a biopsy and what results we knew of. We tried to forget and just have a good time. I am glad we did since we did not have a clue of what we were in store for.

Donna is the strongest person I know. Guess that is why we are friends and why we married and have stayed married. This was a new challenge. It was for sure going to be the toughest challenge we have ever faced together. But perseverance is in our blood, relationship, and souls. Cancer was not going to beat Donna and it wasn’t going to defeat us!

After we came back from the camping trip we settled in and tried to come to grips with what we now faced. First we needed information. The appointment with the surgeon was Monday. We let Donna’s older sister and mother know and they went with us to the appointment. The doctor went over everything in detail and spent a lot of time explaining what the possibilities were. What stage the cancer could be and what treatment options might follow the surgery. Nothing would be set in stone until after the surgery. Donna went with the doctor’s recommendation and the lumpectomy was scheduled.

We called the kids in for a family meeting. We explained what was going on. We also called Donna’s siblings and they all planned on being present on they day of the surgery. I think this family support helped Donna face this disease with courage.

The gang all gathered and we waited to hear from the surgeon. Donna’s sisters Judy, Pat, Ann, Margaret, Debbie were there. Her mother also came to support her daughter. Donna’s brother, Carl, was represented by his wife Dianne. Carl is a judge and had to be in court or he would have been there too. Donna was in surgery for a long time. We were all getting worried. She went in at 10:00 A.M. We did not hear anything from the surgeon until 2:00 P.M. The surgeon explained that all went well, and as they suspected, the cancer was stage one. The good news was that it had not spread beyond the breast tissue. The next steps would be the radiation treatment. There would be no chemo at this point.
We went in for the follow up appointment. Donna had decided to go with a new radiation treatment that would only take a week instead of the standard six week treatment. The insurance was approved and we went forward.

The treatment involved cutting space in the breast where the tumor had been removed. Yes more surgery. A balloon is placed in the newly created space. A catheter is attached to the balloon and is exposed outside the breast. Once in place the radiologist fills the balloon with radio active material. This is done twice a day for a week. It is very painful and Donna suffered for that week. The up side is the treatment is over in a week and recovery time is shorter than standard radiation treatment.

Then the ongoing treatment began. For the next five years Donna will be taking hormones that will reduce the chance of the cancer recurring. This is not easy. The hormone treatment causes hot flashes, fatigue, headaches and night sweats. It also causes a drop in calcium levels so calcium supplements are needed as well. The calcium supplements have their own side affects which are varied stomach and digestive issues.

It has been over a year now and Donna has done well. I am lucky to work for an employer that provides excellent insurance. I wonder how people without insurance face these issues. There are many Americans that work and make too much to receive public medical assistance. They may be O.K. for the common cold office visit but something like what Donna faces could easily bankrupt a family that lacks insurance coverage. I felt very lucky. That is why now I am an advocate for cancer research and better medical coverage for all. There is no reason that in this country people will die from cancer when they could otherwise survive with proper treatment. Do not be fooled, many low income people die from cancer because they do not receive the same medical treatment people of means and/or insurance receive. In my opinion that is an unacceptable condition.

I will be running again in the local Suzan G. Komen Race for The Cure. If you are a runner find out where and when this is going on in your area. We can cure cancer and this is a way people who enjoy running and fitness can help. Last year I ran this race in honor of my wife and my mother who was also diagnosed with breast cancer in the spring of 2008. I will write more about that challenge. Again if we all ban together a cure can be found.

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